patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Friday, February 15, 2013

what was it, if not miracles

John opens his account of Jesus’ life with those big scary philosophical statements—In the beginning was the word, etc.—and then tells about Jesus’ being baptized by his cousin John and then recounts certain of Jesus’ disciples being called to drop what they’re doing and follow him.

With that introduction, we arrive at what John identifies as Jesus’ first miracle: his changing of water into wine at somebody’s wedding, having been talked into it by his mom. John writes, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11 NRSV).

I can understand why, having witnessed this miracle, Jesus’ disciples “believed in him.” What I can’t figure out, though, is what it was—if not miracles—that caused the disciples to drop everything and follow Jesus in the first place.

I mean, he was just some guy from around where they lived. Not rich or well-connected, without even, if Isaiah’s prophecy was correct, “beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV).

I’m guessing the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy—that the Messiah would be “despised and rejected…and…held…in low esteem”—evidences Jesus’ later treatment by those around him, his torture and execution, not the attitude of those he encountered. He seems to have had, in any case, some sort of attraction for those who left home and family to follow him. Some charisma—a Greek word that originally meant favor or divine gift—that not only drew others to him but convinced them, right from the start, without any miracles, that, as Philip tells his friend Nathanael, they had “found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 NIV).

That said, John himself records, and thereby discounts, a pretty amazing miracle that predated the wedding at Cana. Nathanael—having dismissed his friend’s discovery with the words, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46 NIV)—subsequently meets Jesus and comes to believe in him himself after Jesus tells him, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (John 1:48 NIV).

If seeing what happened without being present to see it is not a miracle, I don’t know what is. Nathanael’s response, in any case, suggests that he thought Jesus’ divine gifts as a seer miraculous: “Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel’” (John 1:49 NIV).

And Jesus’ own account of Nathanael’s instantaneous conversion also references that miracle—“You believe,” he tells him, “because I told you I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:49)—and he promises even “greater things than that” (John 1:50 NIV). Not just magic tricks like fortunetelling or changing water into wine or walking on the surface of a lake but the very miracles people wish for: miraculous healings of their loved ones and bringing dead people back to life.

Very truly I tell you,” Jesus tells Nathanael, tells us—just like Jacob at Beersheba, we’ll see “‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (John 1:51 NIV).


  1. I agree that Jesus performed at least one miracle before the one at Cana. If he performed one then maybe he performed many of this sort - private miracles. I wonder if John is distinguishing between public and private miracles. Maybe a public miracle was one that affected and was witnessed by many people at once and a private miracle was one that was witnessed by a single person or a small intimate group. If Jesus performed a miracle in front of his family or disciples and they told about it, I think it would be easy to dismiss them. It would be harder to dismiss a miracle if it was witnessed by people with no ties to the one performing it.

  2. Interesting distinction. At this church we used to go to, this guy with a very sick wife got mad whenever people talked about their small, private miracles, like the healing of a puppy's broken leg that I talked about once during a Sunday school class. Why would God heal a puppy, he raged, and not his wife, whom he'd been praying about for decades? I wasn't sure if he was mad at me or God--probably both, I'm thinking now--but it made me feel embarrassed and guilty to have spoken of it. Maybe that's another reason why Jesus so often tells people he heals or releases demons from not to tell anyone.

  3. One of my convictions is that we should not create God in our own image. If this is not the height of arrogance (and evil) then I do not know what is. In my personal experience, the more I know him, the bigger he becomes. Just when I think I have the lock on what he is going to do, he does something unexpected. Sometimes, I confess, that his actions do not seem at all in line with what I believe are his characteristics. In those situations, I have to remind myself that he is bigger than me and trust that his actions and characteristics are indeed in synch. I guess this is part of faith. Anyway, I think that we can get so caught up in what we expect from him that we completely miss him - we don’t notice the unexpected miracles at all. I think we can get so caught up in what he must do for us now that we do not see what he has already done and continues to do for us.

    When my mother was dying of brain cancer, for example, I prayed to God and asked him to heal her. As the years went by and my prayers went unanswered, I started asking him to "show me the good" in her brain tumor. He did. He showed me an unreligious, stubborn, independent, and self-reliant Southern woman humbly accepting him as a result of her brain tumor. I am glad I didn’t miss that. She died from the brain cancer but gets to spend eternity with him.